The Myth of Self Reliance

Self reliance is a myth. Humans are social creatures that need interaction for emotional well-being and sustenance. The concept of self reliance, however, implies that we can make it alone.
True self reliance would involve a complete withdrawal from society, a Thoreau-like retreat to Walden Pond or a John-the-Baptist-like wandering in the desert. However, even there the fish of the lake or the locus of the wilderness provided what they could not provide for themselves.
Spending a dollar admits that I need what someone else has. Working to earn a dollar admits reliance on either an employer or on customers.
Since pure self reliance is impossible, we must all be dependent. However, there is good dependence and bad dependence. Learning about the good and shutting out the bad is the way forward.
Bad dependence is reliance on others. Good dependence is reliance on others–and yourself. In the second, the difference is learning to count on, trust, and rely on those around me. This is difficult, since it’s easy to mistrust people. However, this skill is critical to forming well balanced relationships with the people you know and encounter.
Driving on the highway, I need to trust that the car I’m passing won’t suddenly swerve into my lane and run me off the road. I rely on the driver’s competence. However, in this situation I also rely on my own driving skills and knowledge to not pass on the left and to avoid cars that are weaving in and out of their lanes.
I work in sales. I rely on my employer to pay me each period, but I also rely on myself to perform. My employer also relies on me to perform. The action it takes to secure my performance is to pay me each period. There we have an example of a well balanced mutually reliant relationship.

A pure reliance, on other hand, is out of balance and even harmful to the individual. Reliance on a person or entity without that entity relying on you is dependence. It plants and nurtures an entitlement mentality. The feeling that you deserve something without earning is a direct result of this one way reliance.
This is why welfare is so damaging to individuals. They receive benefits from the government that they are trained to rely on. The government does not receive any reciprocated benefit. This one way relationship of giving is not generosity, and it does not promote a society built on balanced and mutually reliant social relationships.
When the cycle becomes one of take take take instead of give take give take, the relationship shifts from that of two people to that of a house pet. I’m not calling welfare recipients animals. Many people truly need assistance to survive. However, when dependence replaces mutual self reliance, it diminishes a distinctly human.
I’m learning the beauty of mutual self reliance. It reveals the deeper value the people in my life have, and shows me my own intrinsic value which I provide through our relationship.

Photo by Nicholas T

Encouragement available

There seems to be no shortage of encouragement available if you look for it hard enough.

However, words from other can be, at times, in short supply. This can lead to one desperately fishing for encouragement from friends and family, which can cheapen what is caught.

I am fortunate that when I am uncertain of myself or lack the full confidence in what I am doing, there always seems to be well timed words of encouragement from my wife or co-workers, or at least some external signs that I am on the right track.

However, when encouragement is not readily available in the form of words from others, there are plenty of places to find it or create it in yourself as needed.

You can look for encouragement in past accomplishments. The current failure does not negate the good things you’ve accomplished before. Be encouraged by what you know you can do, and what you have done. This is more indicative of what you’ll be able to do in the future than any one setback.

Remember the obstacles you’ve overcome in the past and recognize that you’ll be able to overcome others in the future. What encouraged you to overcome those obstacles? It may be possible to rediscover those past encouragements and apply them to the present.

However, don’t always look back for encouragement. Also think about the ways the current difficulty will help you to learn and grow. People develop through their experience, and the experience of difficulties and hardships can be the most effective teachers. Try to recognize, in the present, how what is happening now will help you grow as a person, and be encouraged by it.

Also, you can look for encouragement in what others have done. There is no shortage of stories of people accomplishing incredible feats. But what do the great people behind those stories and I have in common? We’re all human. We work with the same limitations and potentials.

Be encouraged by what what you know you can do well, and don’t allow things that you’re bad at to get you down. You can find encouragement in your own talents, understanding that even if you’re having difficulty in your current endeavor that you still have the things that you’re good at.

I am a lucky man. Never lacking in my family cheering on all that I do. I also have very supportive co-workers, who are equally invested in my success. This is a great benefit to me. If it’s not something that you have in your life. I highly recommend it.

Find a few people who can light up your day. Invest yourself heavily in those relationships. Reap the rewards, and enjoy them for their own sake. Not much else is important when a few people close to you are able to fulfill you social needs for love.

I am so fortunate to have the support I enjoy both at home and at work. It makes me thankful to know that there are people who are there for me when I need it. I hope that I can be there for them too, to be for them what they are to me.

But I am also thankful that I am able to encourage myself, when I find myself alone.

Issues with unfinished business

I have a problem with unfinished business. 

I had some issues with my computer a few weeks ago. It was late but instead of letting it go, calling it a night and saving the trouble shooting until morning, I felt an uncontrollable urge to fix the problem. Nothing could distract me from my desire to fix the problem and make things right again. 

I can see how this trait could be harmful. Stubbornness can easily distract me from what may really be important. 

Could this be good?

When I have a problem, all my energies go into fixing it. This is only true when something was fine but then broke or stopped working. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case for things that are wrong, that have always, or at least for a long time have been wrong. It seems like the urge is more crisis control or a desperation to maintain the status quo.

If only I was able to harness that “I have to fix it now” energy into changing bad habits and developing new behaviors. It really could be a powerful force for good in my life.

Converting bad habits into good ones

How do you take a bad habit and focus those negative energies into something positive? I feel like I try to do this. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the benefits of distractions. Distractions, a bad habit and a weakness, can provide the needed brain break for me to accomplish real work. An uncontrollable fixing urge, could, I suppose, be applied to something that was broken long ago, rather than just the recent break-downs.

But the energy just isn’t there for the long cherished faults the way it is for the newly discovered broken parts. I want to learn to deal with both with the same vigor and passion, but one is by nature easier than the other. Why is it that we learn to accept our faults, just because we’ve had them for a while?

Feeling ready to take control

I do feel ready for radical changes. It’s about time for some internal ones to keep up with the break-neck speed that everything else has been subject to. I live in an ordinary time, where many things are familiar to the universal experience, but I think it is time to make a clean break from my own linear motion and take real control over my life, actions, and outcomes.

I am a man, and I have control over my life. Each day I am offered so many choices, so many opportunities to act, and act with the brain. Just writing this probably brings me a step closer. Publishing it here does provide some level of accountability. I wouldn’t want anyone to read this and six months down the road see me and realize that I still have not grown up and that I still have not taken control of my actions and choices.

I have a lot of potential, as does everyone my age. There are still years and years worth of things to learn and do. I’m starting now so that I won’t miss out on a single chance to find what I’m looking for. It’s getting late, but tomorrow will have more for me, so I can wait. 

Besides, the computer problem I mentioned at the beginning is resolved, so I’ll be able to sleep easy. The momentary crisis is averted. 

However, I’m still not sure how I can rest so well knowing about my other issues

100 pushups seems a long long long way away

I just struggled through my pushup routine. Over the past few weeks of preparations for my 5k run, I have completely neglected all of the muscles in my upper body and today it showed. However, I’m preparing to turn that around.

A few months ago I had printed off Steve Speirs’ Hundred Pushups Training Program and started working on the routine. I got through the first few weeks of the program without too much trouble, but near the end of the third week I began to realize my weaknesses.

I’ve never been able to do much more than 40 pushups in a row, so the task of working up to 100 pushups is quite daunting and maybe unrealistic for me. However, I’m confident that if I stick to the routine and work at it consistently I will succeed.

I’ve never been able to do much more than 40 pushups in a row, so the task of working up to 100 pushups is quite daunting and maybe unrealistic for me. However, I’m confident that if I stick to the routine and work at it consistently I will succeed.

The program is built around making small improvement and gradually adding more and more pushups into the workout until the body is capable of completing 100 consecutively.

Routine and stick-to-it-ness are not my strong points. However, this is the sort of goal where the very act of striving after it will develop other good habits along the way.

Success or failure in the end is not what is most important in working towards the 100 pushup goal. Whether I succeed or not, the training along the way will greatly benefit my body, mind, and will.

My body will get stronger. Just going through the motions will ensure that. Also, my mind and will power will be developed and strengthened in the process. My hope is that I will be able to apply the mental skills that I develop in this training to other areas in my life.

Learning to make gradual improvements in small increments over a long enough time line will inevitably lead to radical changes in my life. I can’t ask for a better educational experience that that.

5k Run: Weakness Accomplishes Nothing

So, I ended up doing much better than I expected in my 5k run on Thursday. I was so nervous going into it. I’m not sure why, but I think it was because I haven’t engaged in any competition at all this year, and also because I was convinced that I would embarrass myself in front of my co-workers, who were all expecting fantastic times.

As it turned out, I came in first at my company, and 20th out of 150 some men. It was quite a shock to me, but in the process I learned a lot about myself and my body.
Running a race is not like other sports. It’s almost impossible to size up the competition. In basketball you can make assumptions based on height, in wrestling, based on build. But good runners come in all shapes and sizes, and when you’re lined up with 300 other people, there’s no telling a head of time where you stand.

And once you start it doesn’t matter. Once the gun goes off, it’s not a competition against anyone except yourself. It’s a contest between your body which is telling you to slow down and your mind which is saying, “Speed up!” Or at least it should. It seemed like half the time my mind was working against me as well.

This went on through out the whole race. I could look at people up ahead and tell myself that I was going to try to keep pace with them and try to catch up. However, the only time I was really able to gain any ground was when–instead of looking at other around me–I pushed aside my own negative thoughts and pushed aside the discomforts of running for the sake of a faster stride that I was able to gain any ground.

Throughout the race, I knew that I would have to overlook my own shortcomings if I was to succeed. I learned at the one mile marker that my weaknesses were not going to help me at all during the next two miles. Weaknesses were of no use. They would accomplish nothing. Only my strengths would be of use in trying to finish this race.

I have many weaknesses and shortcomings. These have no benefit in any circumstance. However, understanding my weaknesses is one of the first steps to take to corner and nurture my strengths. And that was how the second mile went. I found my pace and my stride. I focused on the energy moving me forward and not on the fatigue that would only slow me down. With this I was able to hold my position and even gain ground on the pack ahead.

In the third mile, my weaknesses were apparent. I had been sweating profusely throughout the second mile, and now my arms were becoming heavy. I would have thought that swinging them at my sides in the nearly frictionless air would be the easiest movement. My back also was becoming tired. I didn’t even know that my back was an active participant in this run. My legs kept going even though breathing became more of a challenge.

The most difficult part of the end of this race was not knowing where the finish line was. The first two miles were clearly marked, but the final stretch had many twists and turns, cutting back and across the path. In addition to that, a 5k is 3.2 miles, and each mile became increasingly difficult so I had an impossible time judging how close I was to the finish.

Many times, tasks and challenges are like that. It gets more difficult when the end of a task or challenge is near, and it’s most difficult when the end is not in site. This was no different. I wanted to keep up my pace and run steadily to the end, but with no end in sight, doubts crept in, voices saying, “You can’t do it, the finish line is still far off, you’ll have to slow down if you plan to finish.”

But, just as I was getting ready to give in and slow down, I rounded the final corner, and out of nowhere, the finish line was in front of me. The excitement of seeing the finish line gave me an extra boost of strength that I used to transition from a run to sprint. I felt light, like I was just starting out…for the first 20 yards.

Then the previous three miles shouted: “Slow down!” But I didn’t listen, and I ran as hard as I could across the finish line, passing one unsuspecting competitor as I finished.

I finished exhausted. But that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. If I had anything left in me after I finished I would have been disappointed that I didn’t use it on the course.

At the end of the race, I knew my weaknesses played no part in my success. Only my strengths mattered. I’m now going to be looking for other ways to apply this thinking. I can, I think, be aware of my weaknesses without letting them interfere with my strengths or goals.

The challenge will be to figure out how.

Learning to run

Yesterday, I mentioned that I am preparing for a 5k race. I use the word preparing loosely. I have only run three times in the past several weeks. However, I have been gradually ramping up my time and intensity with each successive attempt. On my first outing, I ran 15 minutes, on the second 18, and last night I went a full 20.

The race is on October 8th so I think I’ll still be able to fit in a few more runs and work my way up to 30 minutes. I think I should be able to finish the race in that amount of time, even at the slower pace at which I train. Hopefully, with the adrenalin the competition stirs up, my ego (which will do anything to beat out my slower co-workers), and the training I’ve completed, I’ll be able to make a good showing at the race.

I don’t consider myself a runner. Since college, I haven’t chosen running as a preferred method of exercise. In high school and college I ran regularly, not for it’s own sake, but either as conditioning for a sport or in the context of a game. Actually, since the beginning of this year, exercise has not been a high priority, but to a small extent, I’m trying to change that to get in shape and maintain my good health.

Using the Internet as resource number one, I’ve been able to find an overwhelming resource of ways to get started and develop. However, this really isn’t something that I need more information on or to be educated in. Probably all the searching was really just an attempt at avoiding the real work.

Running is just something I need to do: set aside 30 minutes to workout, and then enjoy or endure the pain or the high, and, every time, the sweat. It’s really about finding out what works and doing it. Hopefully there is more pain than high, or I may become addicted.

Finally, I didn’t snooze ’till seven

I made it to work by 6:32 a.m. Not to the office, but to the laptop to begin writing. I’ve been trying for a few weeks now to wake up earlier in the mornings to no avail. It seems like every week night, I’m able to set my alarm for 6 a.m. with no problem, but when it comes to morning I’ll hit the snooze button repeatedly until 7 a.m., which is last call for getting up and getting ready for work.

This may not seem like any great accomplishment, but for, me, a new dad, whose decided to become a writer, it is a real milestone because it creates for me a new 30 minute block of time in the day. I’ve been developing more goals for myself in the last several weeks, more things I want to do and accomplish on a daily basis. However, to even start working on those goals, I needed to create some more time in the day, so this was a major step forward.

If I can carve out this time consistently, it won’t all be dedicated to writing. I also have a 5k run coming up, and I want to make sure I finish. Therefore, part of this newly created time will have to go towards running to get in shape and to make sure I don’t come in last. It’s a corporate race, where many of my co-workers will also be participating, so I have to be sure not to embarrass myself. That should, actually, provide great motivation to get in shape, but I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before now.

I have not reached my final target yet, but it feels great to even accomplish part of a goal. The final step for me and mornings, or at least the current plan, is to consistently get up at 6 a.m., and get to writing or working out immediately. I may be a ways away from that still, but this morning was a good first step.

For me, getting up early is still a work in progress, but I’m looking for ways to develop this habit of getting up early. Here are a few ideas:

1. Get a reason

Waking up early for its own sake is a losing proposition. I need a reason to make it happen. I already had some new goals set for myself that I didn’t feel like I was adequately addressing, so now I’ve applied these goals to me my action items in this the newly created time. For a long time getting up at 6 a.m. was a goal in and of itself.

I think now, with some clear activities that I want to engage in during that time, it will be much more realistic and manageable. These goals and plans for the mornings are best if it’s something you really want to do that you feel like you don’t have the time to do otherwise. For me that’s writing and working out, but it could be anything. Whatever the case may be, getting out of bed in the morning is easiest when there’s a reason.

2. Banish the snooze button

This, for me, is still the biggest stumbling block. I need an alarm clock to get up in the mornings (and I don’t anticipate that changing), but one of its simplest functions seems to consistently be my undoing. The damn snooze button is so easy to use: just press it and enjoy 10 more minutes of uninterrupted sleep. I haven’t found a way (but I’m sure there is one) to disable that function, but this is not a technical issue.

The 10-more-minutes mentality is what really gets in the way. During that 10-minute snooze, where I promise myself that I’ll get out of bed when it rings the next time, leaves me with too large a gap to start rationalizing all the reasons why it will be better to re-set the alarm to later in the day and sleep until deadline. I’ll be far better off if I don’t give myself the opportunity to talk myself out of getting up. The best solution here is to get up when it beeps the first time, turn the alarm off and leave the bed room. I have a long way to go in learning the self-discipline to stat doing this, but that is another issue entirely.

3. Make gradual changes

I wanted to start getting up an hour earlier, but that could have been too big of a jump. I may be better off setting my alarm for 6:30 a.m. for a few weeks to get used to this new time, to develop my reasons to get up and to wean myself from the snooze button. Once I’ve gotten the hang of 6:30 a.m., I’ll move the clock back again in gradual increments until I reach my goal.

Who knows, with baby steps I may be able to move it back even earlier. Of course if I get really good and start getting up a 5 a.m., I’ll probably have to write and run every morning. I don’t think I’m ready for that.

Unburdened technology

Technology brings many gifts to life. But it also bring many new burdens. The next step forward will be learning how to best integrate the modern marvels of technology, but to not let it get in the way. My question is how to let technology work in the background, to be able to benefit from it fully, appreciate it, but not have to think about it or let it get in the way.

One step is to figure out exactly how much technology is needed to complete a particular task. It is easy to upgrade to the latest version of a super sophisticated word processor, only to get so caught up in the new and improved features that you forget what the program was intended for in the first place.

I’ve reverted back to using notepad, a computer program that was probably less complicated to make than a pen and a pad of paper. (No offence to the programmer, but I’m sure making a pen and a pad of paper from scratch would be quite the accomplishment.) I’ve found just in this first post that I am much more focused on the words and ideas that I am writing, because I am no longer thinking about the other functions and formatting I’m sure I’d be exploring in any other situation.

A blog is a technical wonder in itself. But ideally, it can function as an effective medium to showcase the written word. This blog is rather advanced, I think. I probably bit off more than I can chew with the template, and the HTML I had to learn to work with it. However, now that it’s set up, I can forget about it and let it work itself. I know the few simple functions to make it look presentable and keep it up to date. This lets me now turn my attention to the content, where it should be.

Distractions are Good

Distractions are the undoing of any effective time management scheme, right? They are bad and should be avoided at all costs. They should be stomped out. I am about to unwind this conventional wisdom that I’ve displayed in a straw-man argument.

Distractions do not need to be bad. They don’t even need to be kept under close scrutiny. Distractions can be the source of inspiration and creativity.

I don’t feel any need to point out the fact that I am easily distracted. I easily stumble out of what I should be doing into unneeded activity that does not move me any closer towards checking off any of the items on my to-do list.

That’s not the reason I’m looking for an alternative. I didn’t just decide that maybe distractions are good since I’ve failed to successfully avoid them.

However, I think I have discovered that each distraction is really just an attempt to avoid work. Now, this work can be my day job or any other task I set myself to accomplish. But why? Why such an effort to avoid what I actually want to be doing?

The reason I get distracted is because my brain needs a break. This avoidance provides a valuable reset function in my mind. Without distractions, I feel I would tire of my tasks much more quickly than if I indulge myself on occasion.

I don’t want to learn to avoid distractions, though. I feel and un-distracted life would be one without surprises. How many great ideas, inspirations, and moments of joy have been part of a distraction. Too much focus is a bad thing to have if it prevents the enjoyment of spontaneity.

By allowing my mind to wonder freely, I’m able to live in the moment, and experience life as it reveals itself.

Do I get less done? Sometimes. Okay, yes. But the method is acceptable.